It’s early evening as I write my musing for the day. My heart is heavy because one of our dear parishioners passed away and I was unable to do those things in the fullness that I normally would do instinctually as a pastor in providing comfort for the family. My day was thrown awry with sorrow and an air of malaise. Oh, how we can take the things we do from day to day for granted. Perhaps a major lesson to be drawn from our present world situation is to be more contemplative and to heap praise and thanksgiving upon the God who is the very sustenance of our being. The following words of Paul carry now a greater resonance than ever before: “In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28 CEB)
The encounter with death this morning served as a glaring reminder of the need for community within the body of Christ. Corporate gathering and pulpit ministry are paramount in the worship practices of the church. Although presently we cannot physically gather together in significant numbers, when current restraints are removed, it will be God’s expectation that local assemblies regular meet again in corporate setting—I suspect we will do so with a greater sense of appreciation upon experiencing life without it. The writer of Hebrews was so correct in his admonition telling the church, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25, CEB). However, keeping this in mind, the church is not left hapless when we cannot meet in our larger gatherings, because community as described in Scripture can be broken down into subsets. Even if and when, e.g., a time such as now, when the larger body cannot tend in an efficient manner to the needs of a grieving family, subsets of it can, which makes a church even more strong by also being both flexible and nimble.
I believe that the early church in the book of Acts embodies what I just shared in the above paragraph. From its very inception on the Day of Pentecost, upon Peter’s stirring message to a gathering of thousands, the continuity and lifeblood of the church flowed out of subsequent subsets of the larger corporate gathering. While asking you to read in its entirety Acts 2 in making this point, I ask that for the moment you focus on one specific verse: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46 NRSV). The early saints met both in the temple and in their homes. Community was both large and small. In both contexts, the crucial work of the church was carried forth both equipping and ministering to the needs of God’s people while simultaneously evangelizing the surrounding world.
I leave you today asking one pivotal question: Could it be that God is calling the church, amid this COVID-19 crisis in which we are primarily confined to our homes, to refine a part of its building of community that has for too long been neglected?
Yours in His Service,
Bishop Lambert W. Gates, Sr.